New Interfaith Grant Funds Nursing Course on Religious Death Traditions

Collaboration between nursing and religion programs will permit course development and strengthened liberal arts connections

Concordia has received an Interfaith America grant to develop partnerships between health services and religion.

In her grant proposal, Dr. Elna Solvang, chair/professor of religion, noted a “Bridging the Faith Divide” webinar was instrumental in moving conversations about collaboration between Concordia nursing and religion faculty into action plans. 

One of the proposals brings together Dr. Jack Rydell, chair/professor of nursing, and Dr. Anne Mocko, associate professor of religion, for a planned 300-level course called “Life, Death, and Spirituality: Care, Compassion, and Religious Diversity.” Mocko said they are redesigning a class on death and dying that will look at different cultures and religious death traditions.

Mocko said it’s important to understand the many different views of the family and those surrounding the dying. For example, some believe that the consciousness and the soul don’t depart the body immediately upon death, so in those cases it would be important to allow a family member to remain with a body for a period of time. The theology of what the body is also has important ramifications for how to treat it at the time of death and what to do with the body afterward.

“By thinking about the different kinds of possibilities, you have this phenomenon that is totally universal — all human beings die, all human beings have to cope with the humans around them dying, but every culture has different ways of responding to that universal,” Mocko said.

“It seems like this generation of students has been through a lot more loss than college students had been when I started here in 2012,” she added. “There are a lot more students who have lost a parent, a sibling, or somebody they went to school with, and there’s still grieving from COVID disruptions. I think it’s important to give them some tools to process death — insights that might be useful in their professional lives.”

Rydell is eager for the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues to develop a course that helps fulfill the religion Core requirement and that fits better around clinical schedules. With limited attention given to the spiritual perspective in a traditional nursing curriculum, the course will also allow all students to talk about death considerations since not every clinical assignment has the opportunity to be directly involved in caring for those experiencing end-of-life care.  

Rydell points out Concordia’s strong history of developing healthcare professionals in a number of disciplines including nutrition/dietetics, exercise science, nursing, healthcare administration, and social work, in addition to all the preprofessional programs.

“The Interfaith America grant provides a unique opportunity to create a religion course of particular interest to a large number of healthcare professions students,” he said. “I am excited for the opportunity to provide our students with a course blending religious and spiritual considerations with end-of-life care, which broadens the concept of interdisciplinary education.”

“I think that’s one of the things that’s really special about Concordia as a liberal arts institution,” Mocko added. “There are nursing and health professions programs at state institutions focused on career preparedness, but we have the commitment that we’re educating whole humans. We want them to be thinking about their own whole selves and thinking about the whole selves of the people that they’re treating.”

The goal is to have the course ready for Spring 2024.

Concordia has had a campus relationship with Interfaith America (formerly Interfaith Youth Core) for more than a decade, which has helped with a number of initiatives including the interfaith studies minor and the Better Together chapter.